In his fifth-century commentary on Ezekiel’s vision of New Jerusalem, Jerome quotes the Aeneid, likening the path of salvation to a minotaur’s maze: “‘As once in lofty Crete the labyrinth is said to have had a route woven of blind walls’ . . . . So I, ente[r] the ocean of those scriptures and, so to speak, the labyrinth of God’s mysteries, of whom it is said ‘He made darkness his covert’ and ‘there are clouds in his circuit’”.
This 1705 maze (Dool-hoff), signed by the Dutch Catholic printer Claes Braau, also comes with clouded pathways, but here the way to New Jerusalem is cobbled by didactic verse. The broadsheet’s four dead-ends are burnished with spiritual gravity by its epigraphs: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14.12) and “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesian 5:15). Each pathway is paved with texts that narrate vocational and moral choices at various lengths. The road dedicated to economic wealth is full of twists and turns, but ultimately leads to the same fate as the short meander through a trench describing vanity: your journey’s abrupt termination. Choosing the “wrong path” forces the puzzler to backtrack, should they want to meet the Lamb of God at the maze’s center. Luckily, there are many ways to reach salvation, such as by studying the seven liberal arts.
The Dool-hoff was published in Haarlem during a period when neighboring Amsterdam was awash with secular mazes. “Doolhof inns”, a type of surreal public house, became increasingly popular in the seventeenth-century, treating tipsy patrons to mechanical statues, uncanny waxworks, and disorienting hedge mazes. Claes Braau’s Dool-hoff strayed from the path of these “astonishing and unprecedented novelties”, in Angela Vanhaelen’s words, and their “Bacchic conviviality”. Instead, it drew upon an older Christian tradition, represented by cathedral labyrinths like the one at Chartres, which W. H. Matthews hypothesized might reference “the various degrees of beatitude by which the soul approaches heaven, as figured by Dante”. That is, a byzantine journey through the labyrinth of the world toward a paradise of the heart. In its marriage of text and spatial warren, the Dool-hoff formally recalls the script labyrinth of Johann Neudörffer (1539), the Geistlich Labyrinth of Eberhard Kieser (1611), and several other precursors. Curiously, as the millennium progressed, the actual serpentine streets of Old Jerusalem would come to represent something much less beatific for Western Europeans: what George Prochnik calls an “entropic deliquescence of the Oriental” — the city’s perceived downward spiral under Ottoman rule.
Scholars are not sure who designed this Dool-hoff. While the text is credited to H. A. Hoejewilt, the name seems to be a bibliographic dead-end (Hoe je wilt means “However you want” in Dutch). Only a few copies survive. While the version above comes courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Jeff Saward offers a detailed description of an earlier specimen, discovered in the recycled backmatter papering a book of Quaker minutes, which can be read and viewed here. And for more religious spiralling, check out our post on Claude Mellan’s 1649 engraving The Sudarium of Saint Veronica.
Feb 21, 2023